On Distributed Thinking

“Maybe I am just interested in cognition in general — alternate forms of cognition, computation, communication. Because I feel like this goes beyond extraterrestrial intelligence — maybe this is saying something about AI.” —Dominic Sivitilli

A recent talk by Dominic Sivitilli shows the quality of independent thinking that manifests in the suckers of an octopus arm. Demonstrating a kind of distributed thinking, where actions taken by the arms (actually the suckers) are not driven by the central brain but by the processing that occurs on their own neural system on the sucker.

“When I do my work I look at how the arms are acquiring information from the environment, and how they are collectively making decisions about that information. That’s where most of their nervous system is, and it allows them to process massive amounts of information in parallel.”

— via Of octopuses and astrobiology: Conference talk speculates on cognition beyond Earth

And let’s not forget to bring up this speculative take to octopus intelligence:

The unique nature of octopus intelligence has sparked a rather peculiar debate recently: A group of researchers (not associated with Gire and Sivitilli’s study) has suggested that an octopus’ mind might seem so foreign because it may be alien. The hypothesis, published in 2018, states that octopus evolution may have arisen, in part, because of a retrovirus (a type of RNA virus) delivered to Earth by an asteroid during the Cambrian explosion about 541 million years ago.

—via Thinking is for suckers, but if you’re an octopus, suckers are for thinking

June 29, 2019


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